Whale watching in Ireland

Humpback whale, West Cork

Whale watching is a blend of time, patience and a little bit of luck. But should these kings of the deep come into view, your heart may well discover the true definition of magnificent

As water laps against the bow of the boat, suddenly a fin rises from the water and the feelings of awe become almost overwhelming. As anyone who has witnessed one of these incredible creatures in the wild can testify, spotting a whale is an experience you’ll carry with you forever. And Ireland is a pretty good place to do it. Why? Well, we’ve the mighty Atlantic Ocean to thank for that. This vast body of water (which runs along our western coastline) is like a superhighway where countless cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises) spend months travelling north to south and back again, constantly on the lookout for a good meal.

There are few experiences that can match the excitement of a close encounter with one of the largest creatures on the planet.

Pádraig Whooley, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

You could almost think of the waters off the west coast of Ireland as a popular restaurant – a bustling stop-off point for hungry whales and dolphins. No surprise then that almost one third of the world’s species of whales, dolphins and porpoises have been recorded in Irish waters.

Common dolphins, West Cork
Common dolphins, West Cork

Back in 1991, Ireland’s biologically diverse waters were declared a whale and dolphin sanctuary, the first of its kind in Europe. Since that time – according to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group, – 25 species have been recorded, ranging in size from the small harbour porpoise to the giant fin whale.

As with any wildlife watching venture, whales and dolphins can be unpredictable. That said, there is always something wonderful and new to see.

Pádraig Whooley, Irish Whale and Dolphin Group

Further north, Carrigaholt around Loop Head in County Clare is home to over 150 bottlenose dolphins, so if you’d like to see these playful creatures leaping from the waters, you’re in with a good chance. The experienced guides from DolphinWatch are well versed in finding the right spot to take a peek at the action, and have one of the highest encounter rates in the world!

Fin whales, West Cork
Fin whales, West Cork

Up in Donegal, a scenic boat tour with Inishowen Boating Experience or Irish Angling Charters allows you to see all sorts of wildlife, including the odd sighting of whales and dolphins. But it’s also good to know that you don’t always have to go to sea to catch a glimpse…

“Not all whale watching requires going out on a boat,” says Pádraig Whooley, “and places such as Donegal and Mayo offer wonderful land-based whale-watching potential for the wildlife enthusiast.”

But regardless of what pops up to say hello, and wherever you sail from, the views of the Wild Atlantic Way will always make your trip worthwhile.

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